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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Annie
    January 21, 2020 @ 4:33 am

    If there is one good thing we can say about signal, it’s that he is introducing more female writers.
    As for the doctors pacifism, I guess they realise they couldn’t keep it consistent because there will be no way to get rid of the villains, but it does lead to situations where for example refusing to fight in World War II is considered noble but killing the scorpion people is okay.


    • Corey
      January 21, 2020 @ 7:36 am

      “If there is one good thing we can say about signal”

      He’s more Noise than Signal. #thankyouillbehereallweek


    • Przemek
      January 21, 2020 @ 9:16 am

      They were ugly and nonhuman, so obviously it’s okay to kill them!

      Although I find it interesting that the villains ultimately escape instead of being destroyed. Had this been a Tennant episode, the ship would’ve been blown up. But with the pacifist 13th Doctor we can’t have that, even though the Skithra seem like a villain that would certainly come back for revenge after such a humiliation.


    • Aristide Twain
      January 21, 2020 @ 6:23 pm

      I really don’t know how intentional it is, but the inconsistency between what the Doctor professes and what she actually does seems like it works really well with Moffat’s idea of the Doctor as “a flawed person called Theta Sigma who tries very hard to an idealized picture of ‘the Doctor’ that they have in their head”.


  2. Homunculette
    January 21, 2020 @ 4:40 am

    Huh, lucky timing means I checked this immediately after it posted. I usually accidentally come to these very late so that’s nice.

    The most frustrating thing in this episode to me (aside from the billionaire stuff) is the fact that the Doctor apparently doesn’t even consider wiping Tesla or Edison’s minds, making the Ada mindwipe where she begs the Doctor to stop even more horrific and baffling.

    I haven’t seen anyone else say this, but it seemed to me they made Edison into a straight Trump analogue (or at least he was played that way). I like that move a lot, but Chibnall sure seems to like having Trump surrogates wander around his seasons.

    To me the biggest improvement this season is the Doctor. Part of it is Whittaker’s performance and part of it is the writing, but there’s much more of a character present than there was last season.

    What would we think of this if it was in the Capaldi era? Would it be a forgettable cast-off or would people feel positive towards it? I have no idea how much we’re grading the Chibnall show on a curve.


    • (Not That) Jack
      January 21, 2020 @ 7:30 am

      The Doctor not mindwiping Tesla and Edison was the moment I gave up on Chibnall’s Doctor Who. It’s clearly never going to have anything remotely resembling narrative consistency, and while I’m not one to worry about some things-last week’s not fitting into any known future didn’t bother me, since fitting into any future hasn’t ever really been the show’s thing, for example-this kind of thing just drags me out of it.

      Great men of history get to keep their memories. Great women lose their memories and get told “good luck” when history knows they die horribly. Nah, fuck that. I’m out.


    • Yossarian, Duck!
      January 21, 2020 @ 8:09 am

      If Robert Glennister doesn’t have his Trump impression down by now, it’ll be a waste once we get to the slew of post-2016 biopics.


    • AndyRobot
      January 21, 2020 @ 4:14 pm

      “What would we think of this if it was in the Capaldi era? Would it be a forgettable cast-off or would people feel positive towards it? I have no idea how much we’re grading the Chibnall show on a curve.”

      Honestly – I think we’d think more highly of it. You’d have the 12th Doctor pulling his “planet of the pudding brains” routine while addressing why no one listened to Tesla. (There’s a reason Tesla and Mark Twain got on famously in real life; cynical funny curmudgeons need hyperfocused optimistic dreamers and vice versa.) You’d have fewer companions to juggle, and one of them would be Clara or Bill. Nardole could handle the Graham/Ryan role. You’d have a Doctor willing to tell off Edison properly.

      Darren on TheM0vieBl0g nailed it this week; his summation seemed to be that this was a perfectly good, solid episode of Doctor Who that had the misfortune of being made in the Chibnall era.


      • Alan
        January 21, 2020 @ 8:43 pm

        “here’s a reason Tesla and Mark Twain got on famously in real life” Does anyone else remember a TV show called “Legend”? It was on the debut season of the now defunct UPN and starred Richard Dean Anderson and John DeLancie as fictionalized versions of Twain and Tesla wandering around the Old West having Steampunk adventures. It only lasted one season because the only thing that lasted on UPN was ST: Voyager which had a built-in fanbase, but it had its moments.


    • Alan
      January 21, 2020 @ 8:46 pm

      Interestingly, while Edison was a capitalist bastard (as he mostly was in real life), the story gives him surprisingly good coverage. Unlike Trump (or the Trump expy from Arachnids in the UK), Edison is genuinely shocked and horrified by the deaths of his employees. And, IMO, he displays the only real cleverness anyone has shown so far this season when he immediately realizes that he can evacuate the streets by starting a panic about Tesla.


  3. Jesse
    January 21, 2020 @ 4:57 am

    I found it bland. I wasn’t sure it was possible to do a bland story about Doctor Who meeting Nikola Tesla, but here we are.

    Anyway: Isn’t it fascinating that the Doctor knows exactly what will happen to Tesla for the rest of his life? Wasn’t she just telling us last week that there are many possible timelines & the future depends on the choices we make now? Oh, well; hobgoblins, little minds, etc.


    • Aristide Twain
      January 21, 2020 @ 6:26 pm

      I’m fairly sure the future’s only in flux past the early 21st century, and anything up to the real-life “present day” is supposed to remain nailed down. Which is, of course, how it’s always worked, even if it makes little in-universe sense for that to actually be how the Doctor knows it to work.

      But if you need a rational in-universe explanation, “The Book of the War” has something about how the 21st century is a cutoff point past which it stops making much sense to try and tell human history, because that’s when humanity explodes into a billion posthumanities with their own histories, some of them becoming time-active on their own. So there’s that as a precedent.


  4. Kate Orman
    January 21, 2020 @ 7:14 am

    Nice to see the Racnoss again.


    • TheMagister
      January 21, 2020 @ 1:47 pm

      I didn’t remember the Racnoss name, but the entire time during the episode I just kept thinking “Were they named the Skithra? No, I’d remember…but they had to have been, they’re CLEARLY the same!”

      Is this alien racism or lazy alien design?


      • Przemek
        January 21, 2020 @ 2:04 pm

        I thought we were meant to think that the two arachnid species are related.


    • Alan
      January 21, 2020 @ 8:48 pm

      I know!


  5. Mikey
    January 21, 2020 @ 7:27 am

    From a meta perspective, doing an episode about people (and alien races) ripping off ideas was quaint given Chibnall’s penchant for ripping off the Russell T Davies era.


    • Alan
      January 21, 2020 @ 8:50 pm

      I was oddly reminded of that weird ST: TNG episode where Geordi was kidnapped by a race of aliens conceptually similar to the Skithra in that they were conceived as “really stupid aliens who steal all their tech b/c they’re too stupid to make their own.”


  6. Rodolfo Piskorski
    January 21, 2020 @ 9:50 am

    I thought Orphan had much more conceptual unity than the blunt, one-note aliens=Edison of this one.


  7. Przemek
    January 21, 2020 @ 10:02 am

    This was competent in every aspect and had good dialogue. Under RTD, this would’ve been on par with, say, “The Shakespeare Code”. And yet it immediately gets to be in my top 3 Chibnall era episodes because for 50 wonderful minutes, I got to forget how shitty and non-functional the Chibnall era is because it actually worked. Which is depressing as fuck, but that’s the world we live in.

    In a way, Nikola Tesla is the perfect historical figure for the 13th Doctor to meet. Nice, intelligent, sweet, quite humble, ineffective and ultimately inconsequential. He’s an inventor with many ground-breaking ideas and no inventions that shaped the future (or at least that’s how the episode presents it). He’s a great man of history that never got to be great, remembered for his potential rather than his achievements. He could very well be an inspiration for her whole character.

    (Also, much like Rosa Parks, he is commemorated in the show as a name that gets attached to a future object that’s floating in space: an asteroid, a car. Something that’s far away and can’t be touched. Interesting.)

    As for the TARDIS team, I agree they’re unwieldy, but for me this was literally the first episode of the Chibnall era where they worked. Everyone got to do something, everyone had at least some character that extended beyond their plot functions. Ryan got to bond with Tesla’s assistant and to find similarities between them. Yaz got to feel bad for Tesla and support him. Graham got to be Graham (he was always the most developed one). And they all got a lovely scene where they’re just excitedly listing bits of New York they’d like to see. No obvious plot function, just companions enjoying their surroundings. It shouldn’t feel like a breath of fresh air, but it really did.

    (Also, Tesla’s assistant reminded me visually of Missy. Sigh. What happened to that show I loved?)

    I’m not even gonna comment on the Doctor not wiping Tesla’s and Edison’s minds, but if she’s not doing that, why not at least tell Tesla he’s going to be remembered? That’s what almost every other famous historical person to meet the Doctor got. Not to mention that just leaving Tesla to slowly decline and die penniless seems cruel. With Noor Inayat Khan we can handwave and say “oh, it was the war, that’s a big historical event, the Doctor can’t interfere”. With van Gogh, we had his mental ilness that the Doctor was unable to cure, and thus was unable to change the course of his life. But with Tesla there’s no such explanation.

    Also, apparently the device Twelve installed in New York in “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” worked because Thirteen’s hopping all around the city with no problems whatsoever. So she could visit Amy and Rory! Imagine Amy realizing she was replaced with Cop, Dyspraxia and Cancer.


    • Rodolfo Piskorski
      January 21, 2020 @ 10:14 am

      It was okay, but after the emotionally stirring and epic Spyfall, and the intriguing and challenging Orphan 55, this felt flat.


      • Przemek
        January 21, 2020 @ 10:40 am

        I’ve been so starved for “competent” these past few years that this episode genuinely gave me joy. I’ll take “flat”, give me more “flat”. That’s how I miss basic quality in my DW.


    • Bedlinog
      January 21, 2020 @ 10:51 am

      Tesla wasn’t such a sweetie in real life. He was into eugenics, and wrote: “we continue to keep alive and to breed the unfit. The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and the race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the deliberate guidance of the mating instinct.”

      Something which the Doctor forgot to mention, in her enthusiasm for selling Tesla as “the guy who invented wi-fi” for the kids watching.

      Just wondering: is Tesla the first person with actual Nazi views to get a thumbs-up from the Doctor?


      • TomeDeaf
        January 21, 2020 @ 11:14 am

        Nah, that’s Churchill.


      • AndyRobot
        January 21, 2020 @ 4:23 pm

        To be fair, a lot of generally moral, intelligent people back then were “eugenics-curious”, as it were. (W.E.B DuBois, for one, and George Bernard Shaw, too.) It’s not hard to see why; if you approach it from the perspective of trying to improve mankind and end suffering, there’s a certain logic to it.

        And, well, then the Nazis showed up and actually put it into practice and people started realizing that giving anyone the authority to decide what genetic traits are worthy of extermination is not a very good idea at all, even if you’re nice.


    • Voord 99
      January 21, 2020 @ 11:51 am

      In a way, Nikola Tesla is the perfect historical figure for the 13th Doctor to meet. Nice, intelligent, sweet, quite humble, ineffective and ultimately inconsequential…He could very well be an inspiration for her whole character.

      I think this is a sharp observation. And it connects to something else, perhaps.

      On the one hand, the story certainly is, broadly speaking, framing the Skithra as parallels to Edison, in order to idealize Tesla.

      But Metivier also goes out of her way to differentiate Edison from the Skithra. Two moments are particularly important: one, the bit where Edison turns out quite genuinely to care about the people who work for him, and two, the point at which he’s given the space to articulate a case for himself and against Tesla, that brilliant ideas are worthless if they don’t actually result in something.

      (Edison’s superficially unsavory qualities also save lives in the episode, when he repurposes his propaganda campaign to get people out of the streets. And so on.)

      This lends itself to a reading in which Edison is the mean between the extremes of the Skithra on the one side, and Tesla on the other, which is a reading that favors Edison. From that perspective, this would be a much more effective and coherent right-wing argument than Kerblam! was.

      But OK, the episode clearly seems to be on Tesla’s side and against Edison. Well, the Doctor is — but, as you point out, she would be, wouldn’t she? A lot turns here on our willingness to accept this particular Doctor as an authoritative voice on this particular point. On that point, it’s striking that the episode parades once again this Doctor’s incoherent objection to guns and goes out of its way to show that Edison’s gun is very useful.


      • Przemek
        January 21, 2020 @ 12:18 pm

        That’s a fascinating reading, I love it. It’s almost as if the episode secretly wants to side with Edison. But it can’t, because that would reveal the fatal flaw of the 13th Doctor that the Chibnall era refuses (is unable?) to acknowledge: the fact that she clearly values people’s intentions more than their actions.


        • Aristide Twain
          January 21, 2020 @ 6:31 pm

          I don’t see that that’s a flaw. Intentionalism is a perfectly valid moral system. It’s very impractical to base practical decisions on that, but in terms of who she’ll agree to like or value, I would say that if anything, giving the Doctor a coherent moral philosophy for once might be a good thing, or at least an interesting thing to try.


          • Przemek
            January 23, 2020 @ 9:29 am

            To each their own, I guess. I much prefer a Doctor who’s able to stand up to evil to a Doctor who has a coherent moral philosophy.

        • Alan
          January 21, 2020 @ 8:57 pm

          I have mentioned before my theory that Chibnall is a conservative whose trying to pass himself off as a progressive because he assumes that’s all the audience is looking for.

          Also, isn’t is a perfect commentary on the Chibnall era that they set out to do a Tesla story with Edison as the villain that ended up making a fairly strong pro-Edison case?


    • taiey
      January 21, 2020 @ 11:58 am

      I thought “Rosa” used the whole cast well.
      You know, a whole season back…


      • Przemek
        January 21, 2020 @ 12:12 pm

        You’re right, “Rosa” too. One more parallel between these episodes.


      • Voord 99
        January 21, 2020 @ 12:20 pm

        I think that’s true, but I think part of that is that Rosa was to a significant degree about the emotional reactions of the three human characters to the situation. (The Doctor is comparatively marginal to Rosa – what works about it would work if you used any mechanism to transport Yaz, Ryan, and Grahame to the past and left them there for a bit.). It is one of the episodes of the new series to which the details of the plot are least relevant to its effect.

        Most episodes just don’t have the room to accommodate four main characters and do the other things that they need to do, I think. Even under the quite different circumstances and expectations of the old series, the Davison era did not manage it well. Even three strains the new series – there have often been two companions, but when that was the case, there was a clear hierarchy in which one of the two was more important than the other.


        • Przemek
          January 21, 2020 @ 1:09 pm

          Good point about “Rosa” – I never thought about it like that.

          It’s strange, though, that the Chibnall era seems to have settled on Graham being the most important companion and Yaz being the most disposable one. There was so much potential for an exploration of female Doctor-female companion dynamics.

          Perhaps a way to make these three companions work would be to make them a family. Graham as a dad/granddad, Yaz as a mom (with an older actress playing her to avoid problems) and a younger Ryan as a child/teenager (from the way he was presented, I’ve always felt he was originally supposed to be one). Or Graham with two grandchildren. That way at least the writers wouldn’t have to keep inventing their characters and plot functions over and over again.


          • AuntyJack
            January 26, 2020 @ 3:22 am

            Speaking of Yaz – seems like all of the writers have forgotten she was trained as police – nothing in her behaviour or dialogue reflects it at all.

    • Mikey
      January 21, 2020 @ 5:24 pm

      There’s some good observations here. I particularly liked:

      “(Also, much like Rosa Parks, he is commemorated in the show as a name that gets attached to a future object that’s floating in space: an asteroid, a car. Something that’s far away and can’t be touched. Interesting.)”

      Obviously it’s entirely unintentional, but a nice piece of synchronicity, nonetheless. It’s these completely unintentional meta elements which are the most interesting part of the last two seasons for me, given the stories themselves are almost entirely bereft of any original ideas or genuine substance. El Sandifer might yet have something to work with when the time comes to write up the era.


  8. Sleepyscholar
    January 21, 2020 @ 10:12 am

    I’m watching out of duty/habit/whatever nowadays, and all I can do is look for small moments to try to seize some pleasure from. I, too, liked the Skithra getting in each other’s way in the chase, and thought it was sharp on a couple of levels: on the one hand, they were clearly so fast that they would easily catch up were it not for this trait, and I also felt that it said something about them: that they undermined themselves with their own competitiveness. I much prefer villains like this, that express some sort of trait, even if it makes them slightly crap.


  9. Rodolfo Piskorski
    January 21, 2020 @ 10:16 am

    Can we all at least agree that Goran Višnjić was amazing?


    • David Claughton
      January 21, 2020 @ 1:43 pm

      Definitely a thumbs up from me…

      Funny thing – in my comment speculating about multiple timelines on the Orphan 55 review, I very nearly namechecked “Timeless” as an example of a series that really leans into the idea of changing the timeline … and the very next episode Goran (who plays Flynn in Timeless) strolls in!

      Sometimes I think coincidences like this follow me around 🙂


      • Przemek
        January 21, 2020 @ 2:06 pm

        Timeless… like a Timeless Child!

        (Yeah, I enjoyed Goran Višnjić’s performance a lot).


    • kevin merchant
      January 23, 2020 @ 10:00 am

      At some points, he came across spookily like the Doctor.


      • Alan
        January 24, 2020 @ 5:06 am

        Nicola Tesla is a steampunk icon. /Of course/, he came off as Doctorish, since most iterations of the Doctor are essentially “brilliant Victorian inventor” which is pop-culture Tesla in a nutshell.


  10. Bennett
    January 21, 2020 @ 11:40 am

    This was good. The guest performances were great, the script was tight, and the direction delivered (I was particularly taken with the Niagara and train sequences).

    But I was hankering for a historical embued with a stronger sense of genre, having been misled by this episode’s title. Genre hopping is one of my favourite things Doctor Who does, but even though I recognise the attempt (hello Spyfall) I’m just not feeling the episodes deliver it.

    Obviously there is a different approach at play than Davies’ one-word tone meetings, or the movie poster ideas of Series 7. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I just miss getting those episodes where Doctor Who becomes prey to every cliché-ridden convention and delights in it.

    Also, I was a little miffed at the description of a Silurian blaster as an “alien” weapon but I recognise that is just the type of fannish pedantry I shouldn’t let myself get distracted by, and there’s a million justifications for it.


    • Voord 99
      January 21, 2020 @ 12:02 pm

      I don’t know. I’m actually cautiously drawn to this era’s move away from the Moffat era’s stance that the past should be approached overwhelmingly through the lens of immediately recognizable previous fictional depictions of the past. It’s part of why Demons of the Punjab was on balance the best thing about the last season for me.


  11. AntonB
    January 21, 2020 @ 11:47 am

    Chibnall is bringing me ever closer to a ‘Twin Dilemma’ moment. (The episode of the classic series where I just couldn’t anymore) it’s only a matter of which episode it’s gonna be.


  12. TheWrittenTevs
    January 21, 2020 @ 12:13 pm

    I am genuinely surprised how much of a boon the destruction of Gallifrey has been to the series. For the second week in a row, one of the best bits of the episode was Whitaker’s Doctor who’s becoming spikier, less forgiving and generally more dynamic as a character. After an entire series which apparently feels the need to justify itself whenever its main character takes an action to achieve a result, Chibnall’s apparently decided that his one excuse now if going to be “she’s angry over Gallifrey” and leave it at that. Simple but effective; I don’t know why you’d create a Doctor where you have to nuke their home planet in order to make them act Doctorly, but if that’s what’s required to get Chibbers to give Whitaker some actual material, then fair enough. We only go to Gallifrey once every few seasons; I think I can live without it.


    • Prole Hole
      January 21, 2020 @ 4:09 pm

      This. I think the difference this season is the Doctor actually has interiority and it makes a HUGE difference. I’m not laying the failure for not having this last season at Whittaker’s feet – she does her best but even Peter Capaldi couldn’t have made dreck like “Arachnids In The UK” sing. But this season she’s being given scenes which actually allow some nuance and variety to her performance and it becomes clear why Whittaker was cast – she’s a terrific actor who can actually deliver when the writer gives her something worthwhile to do. Even something as simple as the way the Doctor casually but very specifically deflects questions about her origin at the end of “Spyfall Pt 2” despite claiming to be opening up about them to assuage her companions fears gives Whittaker space to develop her performance. For all that the episodes themselves continue to fluctuate wildly in quality I am loving the way the 13th Doctor is coming together this season.


      • Przemek
        January 21, 2020 @ 6:11 pm

        I don’t mean to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of Whittaker in the role, but I couldn’t disagree more. There were several scenes in this very episode, most notably her weirdly flat expression when she talked about understanding Tesla’s excitement about his ideas, where I thought “this Doctor has, like, 3 facial expressions”.


  13. AndyRobot
    January 21, 2020 @ 4:39 pm

    It’s the first episode in a long while to really chime thematically, which DW used to do regularly back in the Davies and Moffat eras. At no point does it blatantly undermine its own message (mostly – see below). It knows what it’s about, and – like Van Gogh fighting an invisible (disability)monster and Shakespeare fighting witches with words – having Tesla face off against monsters that steal technology and exploit geniuses is perfect. It’s Celebrity Historical 101, and the only reason not to include some sense off mirroring is when you’re making “Rosa” and you really don’t need to (which, arguably, is one big reason Krasko didn’t work.)

    Is it just me, though, or… is this era so allergic to the concept of “About-ness” that the “Historical Figure’s Big Challenge/monster’s main defining feature” mirror trick here was struggling to make itself heard? Like, it was a little too low in the mix, there was a little too much else going on, and Edison’s presence in the story as a reluctant ally kind of undermines it a little, since the only way for this to really pay off dramatically and emotionally would be for Edison to suddenly have an “oh s**t, it me!” realization when he’s face to face with the scorpion lady from another planet, and somehow /that/ would be even /less/ historically accurate than the phrase “Thomas Edison comes face to face with a scorpion lady from another planet.”


  14. Andrew
    January 21, 2020 @ 5:54 pm

    This was such a huge step up from last week in terms of plotting, directions, and general production values. I would describe it as a solid, fun episodes with only a few contrivances to sour the taste. So far this season is batting 3/4 – not too bad.

    Once again the companions as just kind of there instead of driving the plot. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see Yaz’s police training when she was attempting to get people to move inside. Only the other hand, her failure did lead to an amusing character moment for Edison.

    I wonder how the bad guys managed to acquire a silurian weapon from the slumbering silurian’s (who are not really alien’s despite what the Doctor says).


    • Alan
      January 21, 2020 @ 9:03 pm

      “I wonder how the bad guys managed to acquire a silurian weapon from the slumbering silurian’s (who are not really alien’s despite what the Doctor says).” Dinosaurs on a Spaceship established that some Silurians fled Earth before “the Great Disaster.”


      • Andrew
        January 22, 2020 @ 2:34 pm

        D’oh. That’s what I get for trying to out-pedant the Doctor Who production team.


        • Paul F Cockburn
          January 25, 2020 @ 6:33 pm

          Actually, I’d suggest that the Silurians are indeed “aliens”—in that they’re not homo sapiens, and the Doctor was explaining the situation to humans at the time.

          Mind you, that was a moment when I thought: “Oh, they couldn’t afford to build a new “alien gun” for this episode, so just went for the first thing they could find in the store-room.” Is that me just being a tad cynical?


  15. Annie
    January 21, 2020 @ 6:14 pm

    Oh, one thing I also liked about the episode was that it showed that immigrants contribute positively to society.
    There is a scene where Tesla tells people that he is an American citizen and that they are standing in front of his lab, not exactly the most subtle but it’s a point worth emphasising these days.


  16. Przemek
    January 21, 2020 @ 6:34 pm

    “Sure, it’s weird to see copyright infringement be the hill upon which she’ll kill”

    It makes perfect sense given her pro-capitalist views. The evil scorpions who steal inventions and ideas are Bad Capitalists, robbing people of the money they could (and should) be making. It is because of the Bad Capitalists like the scorpions or Edison that the Good Capitalists like Tesla can’t become billionaires like they deserve. To this Doctor, to take away someone’s capacity to make money is a, appropriately named, capital offense that deserves a capital punishment.


  17. Matthew Marcus
    January 21, 2020 @ 8:23 pm

    This may not be a popular view around here but I actually much prefer Chibnall’s seeming attitude to historical episodes to either Moffat’s or RTD’s. RTD fawned over historical “celebs” but tended to see history as a Very Silly Place, ripe for clowning around in and mostly backdropping the seasons quota of “silly romps”. And Moffat’s sitcom instincts didn’t really change this. Whether or not Chibnall is up to making great stories full stop, I really do appreciate that his historicals are being taken more seriously as a rule than any since the 1960s. (Whether or not this is just because they look good lined up with Chibnall’s sci-fi adventures is of course another question.)


    • Bedlinog
      January 22, 2020 @ 12:11 am

      That’s not quite a correct view of what the RTD era was doing. In all his celebrity historicals, the celebrities were writers. In essence, the Doctor was entering a fun version of an Agatha Christie story or a Dickens novel. It was never an attempt to set the story in the past. It was more overtly to see what happened if Dr. Who was crossed with a famous literary genre.

      Moffatt used ‘historical celebrities’ almost like guest stars. So, instead of, say a famous film star turning up in a story, you’d have Queen Elizabeth I, or Churchill turning up in a story that had very little to do with portraying a historical era.

      If Chibnall has anything like an approach, it’s to try and have Dr. Who do ‘Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls/Boys’, in which we introduce a historical figure (e.g. Rosa Parks or Ada Lovelace) in order to give a short introduction to them to the kids at home. I’m not sure this is actually a workable idea in story terms, as it means that the historical figure can’t function within the Dr. Who story at all (Rosa Parks had no idea she was in a Dr. Who adventure, and Ada Lovelace got her brain wiped so she’d have no memory of it). The Tesla story (not by Chibnall) was more like a half-remembered RTD approach, which didn’t quite realise that RTD’s celebrity historicals weren’t about portraying history.


      • Prole Hole
        January 22, 2020 @ 2:04 pm

        “In all his celebrity historicals, the celebrities were writers.”

        Just to be technically correct (the best kind of correct!) Mme de Pompadour wasn’t a writer and “The Girl In The Fireplace” is probably the most celebrated celebrity historical in the whole of the RTD era. I mean sure, it’s written by Moffat, but it’s squarely in the RTD era – not even halfway through in fact – and I’d argue it was absolutely an attempt at setting a story in the past. Indeed the emotional crux of the story rests on the idea that the Doctor might be stranded in the past, taking the “slower path”.

        (I’d also strongly contest the idea of “The Unicorn And The Wasp” as fun, since it’s straight-up awful, but that’s a separate matter)


        • Przemek
          January 23, 2020 @ 9:20 am

          I love “The Unicorn and the Wasp”. I could rewatch it endlessly.


          • Prole Hole
            January 23, 2020 @ 12:14 pm

            I think that’s probably the general opinion but it’s not one I share, despite my absolute unending love for Catherine Tate and Donna. Horses for courses and all that – it may well be me that’s in the wrong.

    • TheHabbadasher
      January 22, 2020 @ 10:22 pm

      I think it’s fair to say that, so far, the historicals have been a bit of a strength of the Chibnall era. At the very least, none of them have been anywhere near outright bad.


  18. Matt Walker
    January 26, 2020 @ 8:49 am

    As ever, the insightful observations have been captured in the comments (and, of course, the post proper).

    For me, the raised bar (how laughable) is marked by the fact I was actually able to watch the entire episode for the first time this season. sigh

    As much as I wanted to believe otherwise, I fear Jodie W was dreadfully mis-cast.

    If we have to put up with Chibnall, could we please lose at least one of the companions; they handled three companions better c.1981?!


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